The end of June is traditionally a time when people in the U.S. pay heightened attention to the Supreme Court. The annual session is scheduled to end Monday and decisions on the last few cases – typically among the most controversial – have yet to be announced. So protestors, politicians and the press eagerly await the undoubtedly dramatic rulings to come. This year is no exception. Supreme Court decisions due now, before the session ends and Fourth of July fireworks fly, include a critical abortion case.
Last year, the Supreme Court waited until late June to deliver its decisions on same-sex marriage, the Confederate battle flag’s use, and religious accommodations for Muslim women’s headscarves. This year’s end of session late rulings deal with cases on gun ownership for people convicted of domestic violence, political corruption, and, the heated one that already has protesters amassing and expecting fireworks outside the Supreme Court, on a Texas abortion law and a similar one in Louisiana. This case, specifically addressing moves to restrict access to abortions in some parts of the country, is likely to be controversial and far-reaching in its impact.
Expected to be the most important abortion decision in 25 years, the case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, involves a 2013 Texas measure that forced many abortion clinics in the state to close, leaving only 10 for the entire physically large and highly populated state (and some of them may be forced to close if the measure is fully enacted). The court heard arguments on the Texas case in March and then blocked enforcement of the Louisiana law a couple of days later, prompting many to believe the court decision may go against the states.
The Texas law has several provisions, but the two at issue are requirements that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and that any facilities used for abortion procedures, including administering medication abortions involving taking pills, meet requirements for ambulatory surgery centers.
One argument against the law deals with limiting access to abortions. In the past, however, the Supreme Court has ruled against placing an “undue burden” such as measures that place “a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”
Texas officials have maintained that their intention was not to make access to abortions harder, which would almost certainly render the law unconstitutional, but rather to protect women’s health. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as well as the American Medical Association have said the law actually endangers women by shuttering clinics and making it more difficult to see a doctor for a legal abortion.
This Supreme Court term has been an unusual and unpredictable one since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. The court is now comprised of four conservatives and four liberals, which makes a majority ruling difficult to achieve in controversial cases. The Texas abortion law one was actually the first major case the court heard Scalia’s death.
During the hearing on March 2, the liberal justices, who include the three women on the court, indicated by their questions that they believe the law is not justified by medical necessity. Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy also seemed critical about aspects of the Texas law, leaving many of those opposed to the abortion laws in question hoping that he sides with the liberals in the final tally. The Supreme Court decision due on the abortion case as their session ends will clearly be a heated one and spark political fireworks in the affected states and possibly nationally this election year.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
ABC News: Abortion, Corruption and Gun Ownership Still To Be Decided by the Supreme Court
Wall Street Journal: Outside Supreme Court, Activists Make Their Cases
NBC News: On Eve of SCOTUS Abortion Decision, Texas Accused of Suppressing Key Data
Photo of Supreme Court building by Matt H. Wade @ Wikipedia – Creative Commons license